Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Can College Be a Boondoggle?

Ever since I have learned the word "boondoggle" I have wanted to use it in the appropriate context. (For those looking for the definition, click here http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=boondoggle). Tonight while watching the "Empire Strikes Back" I realize I have the perfect story in which to use "boondoggle."

As the entire free world knows, "Stars Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith" premieres tomorrow. I, like so many other children of the 80's, will be standing in line for the midnight showing. (And possibly even in costume.) To prepare for this monumentous occasion that I have been waiting for ever since the day I got my R2D2 punching bag for Christmas 26 years ago, (which I properly used to knock my sister over the head several times), I have been re-watching all of the Star Wars movies. Tonight while multi-tasking watching the movie, cleaning the kitchen and bathroom, working out, and painting my nails, I found myself listening intensely to the soundtrack. Back in my college days I took a boondoggle, I mean class, called "Music in American Movies." It was a class the university kept around for students that had to fill credits in their electives, but needed to do so without hurting their GPA. In my case, I had to fill my "music and fine arts" elective, since the course I had taken at BYU did not transfer to GMU. As the counselor told me who suggested I take the class, "we also use this class to help jocks who need to up their GPAs to stay on a team." I figured it couldn't hurt and signed up.

This boondoggle turned out to be one of the few classes I have applied multiple times since graduation. If given the chance, I'd even go back and take it again. Back then, I only attended the class 4 times total and still managed to get an A. The class watched certain movies and then learned to pick out imagery, themes, etc all from the music in the movie. John Williams' movies were only watched in the first week, since they are so obvious. For instance, in the Star Wars films each character has his/her own tune, but each tune is a derivative of the others. Everyone can pick out the Darth Vader tune, "Dum dum dum, DUM, de dum dum dum". (admit it you are doing the march in your head now) But did you ever realize that Luke's theme music is the same run of notes, but played on a solo oboe? Ooh, the symbolism! Or that Leia's theme music is the same as Luke's? Or that the "love song theme" for Leia and Han Solo is played with Han's instruments but is Leia's tune? There is even a theme song for the droids, Yoda, and Obi-Wan. Poor Chewy was left out in the theme song pickings. All of these things you would know if you had taken "Music in American Movies."

Of course the class was a total boondoggle (how many more times can I say that?). But it has served great purpose in guessing the ending to many movies. Have you ever had that nightmare where you dream you forgot a final or exam? Well, it actually happened to me. As the semester was ending one year, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was forgetting something. For three days I tried to figure out what on earth I was missing. And then it hit me. I had completely forgotten I was even taking this class. I couldn't even remember which day of the week it was taught. I finally gave in and went to the professor, convinced I had probably failed the class. Much to my surprise he had a note on the door for all the students who had forgotten they were in this class (attendance was clearly not required). It gave the instructions on how to complete the final exam (watch 3 movies and compare the music) and turn it in within 10 days. Phew! Big relief. I compared the "Empire Strikes Back," a Kevin Kline movie, and a cartoon. I think I made everything up, including some of the characters. But I got an A, and that is all that matters, right?

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